What did happen to The Arts & Entertainment channel? Or The History Channel, for that matter? Not so many years ago Arts & Entertainment had a reputation for featuring quality programing that stood out from all the other commercial networks.
I was reminded of their former glory when Shar and I ran into the DVD set of Horatio Hornblower last week. The eight full length movies were based on C. S. Forester’s book series of the same name. Horatio Hornblower served as an officer in the British Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. The series follows his career and adventures from a seasick young recruit to positions of leadership and heroism.
At about the same time, A&E programing included A Nero Wolfe Mystery. The mysteries were one to two hour shows featuring a combination of recurring characters along with ever changing guest stars. Another winner was the Inspector Morse series, reruns from the BBC movies. If you tired of mysteries, A&E ran hour length Biography programing. Biography was a long running half hour and full hour series that covered the lives of hundreds of personalities and historical characters. Mark Twain, Marilyn Monroe, Will Rogers, Walt Disney, Pope John Paul II, and Elvis Presley; each had a turn. Over the years, the show changed from an emphasis on historical figures to devote more time to political and social leaders, and eventually business and technology trailblazers. Ultimately, Biography was cancelled.
I suppose we should have seen the inevitable coming when they changed their name to A & E, dropping the “arts” reference and suggesting less artistic content. But who could have foreseen the coming “reality” television? That same channel became the home of Dog the Bounty Hunter, Gene Simmons Family Jewels, Inked, Storage Wars, Parking Wars, Shipping Wars, and Duck Dynasty. The less said, the better.
With shows like these, it should come as no surprise that A & E also owns The History Channel, now known as History. At one time, The History Channel held a position of respect. I’ll be the first to admit I got a little tired of constant black and white documentaries about various aspects of World War II, but they had a loyal audience and seemed historically accurate. They also did a fine job of presenting shows on the Crusades, the American Civil War, and the Great Depression
Somewhere along the line, The History Channel moved to reality shows like Pawn Stars, about a three generation family pawn shop and the haggling they do with customers. Another show, Ax Men, is advertised as detailing the lives of logging crews. A third, Ice Pond Truckers, apparently covers the world of truckers who deliver necessary supplies to remote areas of Alaska. So far, I’ve resisted the temptation to tune in.
More than fifty years ago, Newton Minow, then chairman of the FCC, called television “a vast wasteland.” A & E and The History Channel were once considered the best television had to offer. I wonder what Newton Minow might say after taking a look at them today?